Gemstone Publishing and Disney Licensed Publishing recently announced plans for Gemstone to produce comics featuring Disney characters. The agreement provides for Gemstone to develop comics based on the entire library of standard Disney characters, to publish previously published material, including work by Carl Barks, Don Rosa, Daan Jippes, and others. It also allows Gemstone to continue reprinting the Carl Barks Library hardcover collections. Gemstone has re-assembled the editorial staff of Gladstone Publishing, the last U.S. Disney comics publisher, to work on the new projects, including John Clark, Gary Leach, and Susan Daigle-Leach.
Gemstone (and sister companies Diamond Comic Distributors, Alliance Game Distributors, and Diamond Galleries) owner Steve Geppi has been a life-long collector and afficianado of Disney comics material, in particular the art of famed Disney artist Carl Barks. We spoke to Geppi about his acquisition of the Disney license and his plans for the future in this two part interview. This is the Part 2, for Part 1, click here.
What is the status of the Barks Libraries?
One of the things that I negotiated in this license was the right to reprint all of the Barks Libraries. As you know we have certain volumes in inventory, but that doesn't do us much good if the other ones aren't available for the new collector coming along. So we have the right to go back to press to do all the volumes that we are missing as well as, if we need them again, the ones we have. We don't have it scheduled as to when we will start that reprinting process, because it is very costly. You have to go out and put a few thousand of them on the shelf knowing that these are going to be long term sellers, a few at a time, but we do want to keep them in print.
How many are in print now?
I think there are probably only three or four, maybe five maximum of the ten in print.
Will Gemstone be doing anything with comic book adaptations of future Disney movies?
Our license does not cover those new characters, but I feel very confident that if we should decide that we could be successful in that arena through the bookstore market (that's where that would have to play out to be economically feasible), those licenses are readily available to us. If anything, Disney would like me to pursue that. The license that we have is, in technical terms, for the 'standard' characters, with 'standard' interchangeable for classic. We have Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Uncle Scrooge; we got a paragraph included in the license that gives us the rights to use every character that ever appeared in Walt Disney's Comics & Stories. So if we ever decide to do a reprinting of Walt Disney Comics & Stories, which is one of my ideas that I haven't really announced yet, we can do it. Bruce [Hamilton] did Comics & Stories starting with #31 and up. I would like to consider at some point in time, maybe sooner than later, a reprinting of Walt Disney's Comics & Stories from #1 up -- perhaps in bookshelf format, so that one day you go into a bookstore or comic shop and there is this perennial library, just like the Barks Libraries, only in a more affordable format and in color (though ultimately it could be more expensive than the Barks Libraries, since you would have so many). You could go into a bookstore or comic store and get a Walt Disney's Comics & Stories 1 through 3 -- kind of like the Marvel Masterworks or DC Archives. What I am struggling with is, maybe initially when we do it, we do an archive format, which would mean a higher price point for collectors, and then maybe spin it off later as a cheaper trade paperback for the bookstore market, but that's all under discussion right now.
Is there any Disney-licensed manga material available, since manga is so hot right now?
The quick answer is 'I don't know.' And my license doesn't cover it, but the way the Disney system works with their licensees is, any images that have been published under their license is available to all licensees electronically. If I go out tomorrow morning and pay Don Rosa $550 a page to do a new story, what will happen is, I will publish that story at which point the image will belong to Disney and Egmont could do what I am doing with them, and get those images and publish their own edition for a much lower cost.
Have you ever seen any Japanese Disney stuff?
To tell you the truth I have seen so much in the way of foreign samples lately, I may have, but just don't remember. They've inundated me with this stuff, and I am loving it. It's incredible how much beautiful stuff that has been published. Egmont does an incredible job! Egmont is a very interesting company. I didn't know much about them before this, but I met the managing director who was here last week when I had everybody in from Arizona preparatory to moving here (they had to come out and find places to live), and I learned a lot. It's a 125-year-old company, and it's actually a charity. All their profits go to a foundation that funds a number of charitable causes. They are about a $2 billion company, and they produce so much that I don't think I will ever run out of stuff to use, even if I just use their stuff. But we won't do that.
Even before I had the license I had discussions with artists who heard we were interested in publishing Disney comics. There might be some very interesting things to do. Now I don't want to desecrate the history of these Disney characters by suddenly having some bizarre version of the ducks for its own sake, I don't approve of that, but by the same token I do think there are probably more artists who have not done the ducks who might be interested in doing them than there were before.
We are going to create some original works, but we want to get up and running as soon as we can and the best way to do that is to take advantage of the four-year window that we have of things that have been published, that our market is anxious to see. I mean you talk to the Don Rosas of the world and they say, 'I want to see my stuff in English.'
So the four-year window you are talking about, that's the amount of time since Gladstone ceased publishing Disney comics here in the U.S.?
Three years, four months to be exact from the last issues of Walt Disney's Comics & Stories and Uncle Scrooge. It's hard to believe that much time has passed, but it has.
Do you have any plans to publish trade paperback collections containing only Carl Barks material?
I am glad you brought that up, because that's another part of what we are going to do. I was specific in the license about getting the rights to do trade paperbacks, and who knows maybe that will work out better than the Tokyopop/CrossGen pocket-size. In Europe they have published Don Rosa compilations -- that epic Uncle Scrooge: His Life & Times -- that Bruce captured in his albums, but I do see a trade paperback program in our near future where we capture Barks and maybe Rosa, or possibly a compilation of a variety of different people. I also see the possibility of some thematic things. One of the things that Western Publishing/Dell used to do in their heyday was to take advantage of the holiday season with Christmas annuals and Halloween stuff. Remember my goal here is to get kids who have not been exposed to comics, or who have limited exposure to comics, exposed to comics by their parents, and I think a parent going into a bookstore or comic shop or a Wal-Mart during a holiday season and seeing Uncle Scrooge/Donald Duck Christmas Stories will think that's a great gift. I just saw an article about the resurgence of reading among 8-12 year olds, the 'tweens.' That's the market that Tokyopop is going after with their Lizzie McGuire comics they just announced. There might be a window of opportunity on this market right now, and we might be able to get some of it. I realize that I am being extremely optimistic on this, but I have to be, because look what went before me.
Speaking about 'tweens' and young female readers, it sure would be nice to get them reading comics. Russ Cochran did the Little Lulu Libraries, is there any chance that Gemstone could get the chance to reprint the Little Lulu comics in color in a more affordable format that kids could buy?
You're right on schedule with your question, because that project is close behind the Disney license. It's my hope to get the Little Lulu license. I always told them that as much as I liked the Little Lulu Libraries, each volume is a hundred dollar purchase, and the people who are interested as a nostalgia piece to go and buy a Little Lulu aren't going to drop a hundred dollars. We'll do it because we are collectors, but it is my plan to tackle the Lulu franchise, and quite frankly a number of other things that Dell published. It's very high on my list of things that I would like to do.
Truth to tell, publishing is cyclical. I know we live in a superhero world. In the direct market, you pretty much know it's a superhero world and there are very low expectations for funny animal/humor books; but the jury is still very much out on the bookstore and mass market world as to whether it isn't quite the opposite. It could very well be that, let's face it, the Disney comics brand is as powerful in the mass market as superheroes are in ours. That's not to say that I expect that to happen overnight, or that I am trying to change it. Quite frankly it's the other way around, my whole life is in comics, and one piece the industry is missing is children's comics, so if that becomes my role to fill that empty niche, it's going to benefit both me and all my suppliers for the other products, because if kids discover comics when they are five to eight, they will graduate into their Archies and their Spider-Mans and Supermans as they get older. So it's a good question and I am very anxious to do something with Little Lulu.
This is Part 2, for Part 1, click here.